Secretary of State John Kerry continues to have faith in his intensive shuttle diplomacy aimed at producing a framework for a final-status agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and he appears to be the only major player left who does.
“Both parties remain committed to fulfilling their obligations to stay at the table and negotiate hard during the nine-month period that we set for that,” Kerry told reporters in Israel after meeting with leaders in Jerusalem and Ramallah at the end of the week. “Our goal remains a final status agreement. Not an interim agreement.”
The talks, which re-started in July through Kerry’s initiative, are due to end in a comprehensive deal in April that tackles core issues including security, the right of return for refugees, the status of Jerusalem, and borders. The consensus, however, is that Kerry’s goal is unrealistic.
Neither side is convinced “that we are closer than we have been in years to ringing about the peace and prosperity and security that all of the people of this region deserve and yearn for,” said Kerry during another visit to Israel and the West Bank earlier this month.
Opponents Lacking Optimism
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, one of the more vocal critics of the U.S.-brokered talks, does not believe it is possible “in the next year, this year, to achieve comprehensive solution, to achieve some breakthrough,” and added that “trust between the two sides is about zero.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to be on the same page, and told the Knesset last week that Israel’s “set of specific terms…have yet to be met in the negotiations.”
In addition, pro-peace parliamentary opposition chief Isaac Herzog doubts whether Netanyahu has the “mental willingness” to go all the way, and in order to do so he would have to rally his right-wing party to follow suit, since only 59 out of 120 Knesset legislators are currently in favor of a deal.
A senior Palestinian official confirmed Ramallah’s pessimism:
“For the first time I can agree with…Lieberman and…Netanyahu when they said that the parties are not close to an agreement…It’s clear that Kerry is trying to promote the process but, in practice, there’s nothing to grasp onto, because Netanyahu is interested first and foremost in maintaining his coalition and not advancing the process.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected U.S. General John Allen’s proposed plan for a “continued Israeli military presence for the next 10 years in the Jordan Valley—along the eastern border of any new Palestinian state,” though he would allow American troops to be stationed there.
Another Palestinian official involved in the talks told The New York Times that a 10-year Israeli military presence in the West Bank is “unacceptable,” and added Washington has “adopted the Israeli security doctrine.”
Trying, Trying Again
Next on the schedule of goodwill gestures is the third tranche of a planned release of Palestinian prisoners. After Kerry’s failure to convince Ramallah to delay the action by a month and accept the release of 60 prisoners at the end of January, the confidence-building measure is still scheduled for December 29, and Kerry plans to present a “framework agreement” to both sides “in the coming weeks.”
The European Union is even prepared to incentivize both sides with a “lucrative aid package” that would upgrade both parties to special privileged partner status, providing more access to EU markets, “stepped-up security cooperation,” and “enhanced political dialogue.”
There is no indication, however, that negotiations are turning a corner. Kerry will most certainly forge ahead with his shuttle diplomacy, but at this point his aspirations reflect fantasy more than reality.